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Car Safety

Angela Oswalt, MSW

The guidelines we've presented so far can help to make homes safer places for babies to live in. However, young children will often go outside the home with their parents. Concerned parents can also think about ways to make these outings occur as safely as possible.

Generally all states, territories and provinces require that infants and younger children must be restrained in a crash-tested child restraint seat while riding in a motor vehicle. Using child safety restraints is not just important because it is law; such restraints are also the very best way available to prevent child injury and death in motor vehicle accidents. Caregivers should never hold a baby in their laps, in either the back seat or the front seat.

Parents should purchase and use new safety seats rather than older, used ones, if at all possible. Caregivers can never be sure that borrowed or used seats have never been in an accident, have never been recalled, have all their parts present and accounted for, have replacement parts available, or have their instructional manual handy. Families with more than one car that is regularly used to transport children should consider investing in multiple car seats, which can remain permanently installed in each vehicle.

New car seats are expensive, but some communities make resources available to qualifying caregivers to help offset their cost. Caregivers interested in such assistance can contact their local public health department, children's hospital, or highway patrol office to learn about free or low-cost child safety seat programs in their areas. Often, these programs offer or require parents to take a class on how to use the car seat properly and to practice installing the car seat. This is a wonderful opportunity for parents to feel secure about their ability to safely transport their kids.

All safety seats sold new are required to meet minimum safety guidelines. When selecting a child safety seat to buy, families should look at what seat will work best for their vehicle and their child's developmental stage. Car seats are not one-size-fits-all devices. Specific seats are useful only for children of particular sizes. As children grow, they require larger seats. Caregivers should look for a seat that matches their child's present size and age. Any car seat purchased should also be tested in the caregiver's particular vehicle to make sure it will work properly in that make and model.

There are three main types of car seats: infant-only, convertible, and booster seats. Infant-only seats are made for babies up to twenty pounds or one year old, and are meant to be installed backward-facing in the rear seat. They should include a five-point harness and an extra pillow support to put around newborns' heads. Newborns should also be kept at a 45 degree angle to ensure their airway remains open at all times. Once babies can hold their head up, they probably will not need the extra head support and can sit upright. Sometimes infants may grow too long for these seats before they reach one year old. This is the case when an infant's head reaches closer than one inch from the top of the car seat. Such babies should be transitioned to a child safety seat that can hold up to thirty pounds that can still be positioned backward-facing. Babies should continue to ride in a backwards-facing car seat until at least age one year.

Often, caregivers will select a convertible seat from the beginning. These seats can restrain a range of children in size and can be positioned either rear-facing or front-facing. Parents should make sure that the particular seat they choose is appropriate for their child's weight and for their vehicle. Once again, read all manufacturers' information or consult a child safety seat training organization for more information.

Furthermore, to keep babies and toddlers as safe as possible, caregivers should refrain from over-dressing babies during cold weather in over bulky coats or blankets before strapping them in the car seat. Extra bulk could prevent the seat's safety harness from working correctly. Instead, caregivers should dress their baby in a few lighter layers, then harness in the safety seat, then cover the now safely latched child in blankets. In warm weather, caregivers should cover the car seat with a blanket or large towel while the car sits parked in the sunshine to prevent plastic and metal parts of the seat from becoming too hot, which might potentially burn a baby or at least make him or her uncomfortable.

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